Nation Branding: I wish I was in Finland!

“Finland? Why Finland? I mean – Finland?”

This brief dialogue summarizes the reaction of my parents when I decided to study two semesters abroad here. Whereas I was totally enthusiastic about Finland, they were not convinced at all. That is incomprehensible, I thought, how can one be not attracted by its excellent education system, breathtaking nature and authentic people? Now I know that my parents had different associations, such as coldness and a difficult language, when “Finland” came into their minds.

Like corporate brands, countries also awake positive and negative feelings in us. In 1996, Simon Anholt introduced the term nation branding, which is an “important tool used by countries to create, change or promote a distinct self-image and international reputation that serves the nation’s interests” (EPIC Global Media). Governments hire PR-agencies to boost tourism, attract FDI, facilitate international trading, enhance private sector competitiveness, and ensure geopolitical influence. Social network platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are crucial channels to communicate national brands.

In Finland, the country brand is managed by the Finland Promotion Board guided by the government. To effectively communicate the goals defined in several strategy reports, they established the campaign Visit Finland and created accounts in the most important social networks. Thus, the nation branding messages are spread across a broad audience.

What do you think about Finland’s represented image in social media? Do you (dis)agree? What are your strongest associations with the country?

As a big Finland fan, I was totally amazed by the Youtube campaigns of Visit Finland. I admire everything in close touch with nature, including people of an honest character and a lifestyle of “give and take”. In my opinion, this is what Finland basically is about. Having lived here already for a couple of months, I confirm that its branding efforts definitely express Finland’s national identity; nicely packaged, of course.

Without doubt, the use of social media in nation branding is a crucial tool to deliver the desired image of a country. However – coming back to my parents – it does not guarantee that everybody is attracted. Unlike propaganda, nation branding does not aim to radically convince nor proselytize people’s opinion, but rather embody the national spirit and lifestyle of a country.

Sources:

EPIC Global Media: http://www.epicglobalmedia.com/blog/the-what-why-and-how-of-nation-branding/

Council on Foreign Relations: http://www.epicglobalmedia.com/blog/the-what-why-and-how-of-nation-branding/

VisitFinland: http://www.visitfinland.com/about-us/

Finnish Tourist Board: ec.europa.eu/enterprise/sectors/tourism/eden/eden_network/meeting-10-06-2010/jaakko_lehtonen_en.pdf

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About Lilly

Hei! Moi! Terve! My name is Lilly and I am a German business student spending two semesters abroad in Helsinki, Finland. I already felt in love with my new home in August, but now I decided to share my experiences with you. My aim is to give you an understanding of Finland itself, its culture as well as some advices at first hand; but hopefully, you are also convinced to get your own impressions visiting this breathtaking country at least once in your life. Tervetuloa!
This entry was posted in Branding in social media and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Nation Branding: I wish I was in Finland!

  1. My first thinking was the same as your parent’s ! Finland = cold.
    I think Finland does a great job in the representation of their « brand » and image in the social media. I follow « This is Finland », « salut Finland » and « France en Finlande » on Twitter. This is such a good idea to create this kind of web page to be closer to foreigners (in my case French).
    Now I know I did a mistake with my first thinking of the country and this is thanks to social media and my stay in Finland too.
    I didn’t know anything about Finland when I knew I’ll live here for 9 months and one of my friend showed me the video you post. Isn’t a sign that social media play a huge role in the reputation of the country ? I agree with you this campaign is amazing.

    • Lilly says:

      Hei Audrey, thank you very much for reading my blog post and leaving a comment; you are the first one 🙂

      In my opinion, many people misjudge and even underestimate Finland itself. There is so much more about coldness here. But why do people think so? Is the Finnish country brand management weak? Well, I don’t think so. People tend to have their own initial prejudices, so country branding cannot change them at all. However, they can work on how Finland is represented, especially in social media platforms. More and more people search for information online, so Finland as a country brand should attach great importance on these channels (to answer your question). I hope you also enjoy your time here in Finland 🙂

  2. maudkh says:

    As most of the people, I first combined Finland with cold and dark. Before my arrival last August, I was really worried by a potential cultural shock I could faced. (I was coming straight from 4 months in Central America).
    Obviously, as a member of the ‘Generation Y’ I first looked into the Internet to gather information and feedbacks about the country and its culture. And I have to say that Finland has a pretty successful ‘Nation Branding’. In my opinion, the government really succeeded in showing the attractive and bright side of the country. I often checked websites such as finland.fi and visithelsinki.fi in order to find cultural events or good tips.
    I think that ‘Nation Branding’ through social media is crucial nowadays to attract tourists or expatriates.It permits to break stereotypes and other clichés. Also, it shows that the country is “on trend”, and dynamic.
    And us -as young people almost addicted to social medias- we play an important role in this by sharing our personal experience, posting pictures or reviews on Facebook, Twitter etc.
    I will conclude with a video from the youtube account of visithelsinki.fi that is to me a clever move from the government to attract foreign teenagers/students as well as a perfect example to support your article : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMXFeeE-mNY 🙂

    • Lilly says:

      Hei Maud, thank you for sharing this video! It definitely hits the nail on the head: Suomenlinna, Sauna and snow partly represent what Finland is about. However, this video is primarily about Helsinki, so I would classify it being part of a city branding campaign. Both nation and city branding are part of place branding, but they have different focuses. Have you already visited the website http://www.visithelsinki.fi/en ? This is a perfect example how city branding is managed using social media.

  3. petrilau says:

    It was nice to hear the views of a foreigner who’s lived in Finland for a bit longer than just a few months, it gives you more perspective and your views more validity. I’ve lived here for most of my life, and at one point was very keen on leaving, but after two years abroad I wholeheartedly agree with your points.

    Yes, Finland is cold (although judging by this last winter you wouldn’t believe it), but we’re also a country with beautiful nature. I would like to ask you though, what makes you think Finland is doing a good job marketing itself? One of our most unfortunate national traits is the habit to underplay everything we do, and this is something I always thought we had carried over to our branding. Finland no doubt has many great qualities, but very often when I’ve spoken with people they don’t mention these.

    • Lilly says:

      Hei Petri, thank you very much for your comment.
      As a foreigner, it is always helpful to hear the opinion of a native about his country. I totally agree with you that Finns tend to underestimate their strengths and achievements in general! So far, I often experienced that, for example, “my Spanish language skills are terrible” is equivalent to a German saying “my Spanish is quite good”, or an American saying “it is excellent!” Do you think this is a “good” character trait? I personally like people who are modest, but Finns also run into danger to be overlooked by others. Maybe that is also the reason why many people are not aware about Finland’s benefits(?) However, I am still convinced that its country brand management does a great job. Just have a look at the current Country Brand Index (CBI): http://www.eturbonews.com/31903/switzerland-jumps-1-brand-us-falls-further-decline
      According to a global panel of branding experts, Finland is among the top 9 country brands! Maybe this answer does not satisfy you as a Finn because Sweden seems to perform even better having the 4th place 😉

  4. michellemarieyukiko says:

    As an exchange student myself, I feel Finland does a great job in marketing the country! I think the nations well known personality trait of being humble is the reason why I like the advertisements so much. Many promotional ads can leave me filled with false expectations, but I feel Finland’s ads as a whole try to go with the mood they want to market the country with, and after a couple months here, I feel that mood is quite genuine.

  5. hannakoivukoski says:

    What a great post, thank you for posting this! 🙂
    I really love that video! It’s just what Finland is about at its best. It’s the brand image of Finland, little romanticized, but still exactly the strongest feeling I have about my home country. Not all Finns give value to our country, but after living somewhere else for a while you start looking Finland in a new way. I don’t always have the feeling that is in the visit Finland-video, when I’m crawling in slush and everything around me is just grey. But what is such thing that doesn’t have each sides – good and bad? Above all I think that Finland is all about summer nights, lakes and beautiful, silent nature. That is the landscape of my soul.

    • Lilly says:

      Thank you for your inspiring comment, Hanna! You are right, Finland is not only about nice people and midnightsun. Last autumn was very awful for me because it was grey all the time and I slightly felt depressed, too. Of course, country branding emphasizes the “good” things about a nation, but what about the bad things? Shall we leave them out? Our still talk about them in a more objective way? So far, VisitFinland is not addressing topics related to that issue. They rather give hints and recommendations what to do in the autumn and winter time, when the majority here usually suffers from winter blues: http://www.visitfinland.com/autumn/

  6. emmanuelleh says:

    Hello Lilly,

    I think it is different from other blog post. Because you talked about your personal experience to talk about finlande. It is such a big difference to see finland as a brand and not as a country. Maybe it is not the best “dreamed” country ever but the marketing that people are doing to make the country more attractive make it looks like magic.
    After all is depend on everyone taste, some people might prefer nature, and if it is the case, finland is the best country ever.

  7. This is such an interesting topic! I personally always viewed Finland as a cozy relaxed winterland where everything is so neat and clean. I do not if that is due to the nation branding, or becayse Finland is naturally that way. But I think a lot of other countries could benefot so so much if they did the right nation branding. And it would be soo interesting to actually study this subject.

    • Lilly says:

      I totally agree with your opinion, Anastasia: country branding is a very interesting field within marketing and I would love to get intouch with that topic in the future, too. Do you have an example about which specific country would benefit from improved country branding? Or who else is doing a good job?

  8. camilleleu says:

    Hi Lilly!

    I really appreciated your post because it is different from most of others. The fact that you do not reasoned from the perspective of a brand, of a company but of a country that wishes to broadcast its image around the world is really interesting. It is true that, when we are led to travel, nowadays, our first reaction is to look for information on the Internet about the country, the city, what we could see there, what we could live there. In this context, social medias and online medias appear like a strongly good way convey the country image.

  9. silkema says:

    Hi Lilly, it is very nice to read your happy blog. I also think Finland is branding itself in the good way with these sites. They use social media very good in my opinion, they really brand their whole country. I just checked how The Netherlands (where I come from) is doing this, and the result is they dont have such a video on youtube. They do have a website which is http://www.visitholland.com but that is confusing because I learned here that or people don’t know that the Netherlands is a country, the belief it is Germany or they think The Netherlands is named: Holland which is not the official name. I think Finland has a example function in this case to others countries. They really brand their whole country and they are doing it very good as well. They are there where their customers are.

    • Lilly says:

      Hey Silke, that is definitely true: we Germans often say “Holland” when we are talking about your home country. Vice versa, many people abroad think that the Bavarian culture including Weißwurst, Sauerkraut and Oktoberfest is equivalent to the German culture, which is definitely wrong! We also have a visitgermany.com webpage, but the quality is worse compared to the Finnish one. Instead, I recommend you to have a look at https://www.germany.travel/de/index.html !

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